You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Outstanding Design’ category.

Adventure of Meno by Tony & Angela DiTerlizzi

Book 1: Big Fun!

Book 2: Wet Friend!

Simon & Schuster; Oct. 09; 48pp; $9.99 HC

978-1416971481 / 978-1416971498

Core Audience: giggly children 2-6 and retro-loving adults

Strengths: Appealing square trim, poppy visual approach, silliness

It’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to talk about books, partly because all of the industry upheaval this year has directed my attention to larger issues, and partly because I am in the middle of writing a book myself. So it was a real pleasure to tear open an envelope recently and have these two books tumble out.

Just the antidote to too much heavy thinking.

Meet Meno, the supercute space-elf hero of Tony & Angela Diterlizzi’s new series for the peepers. With his green beanie, irrepressible cowlick, and nifty sweater & tie set, Meno is the embodiment of My Three Sons meets Dennis the Menace with a pinch of Japanese-inspired Friends With You thrown in for good measure.

Tony and Angela have said they were inspired by lots of mid-century influences when creating these books. Things like “Little Golden Books, old Fisher-Price toys, and vintage cereal boxes” as well as funny words like pickle, weasel and spork. They must have had a lot of fun doing this project, and it shows. Populated with friends like Yamagoo, Wishi, and—my favorite—Zanzibar who lives in his HAPPY FUN BOWL, Meno’s world is full of interesting names to roll around on the tongue.

Presented in “Vibrant MENO-COLOR” the books’ clean layout, punchy full bleed art, and bouncy text add up to a high-style package that will be equally at home on a children’s bookshelf or a pop-culture lover’s coffee table.

Because of their strong aesthetic and minimal, playful text, it would be easy to dismiss these books as a design exercise, but that would be a big mistake. In our house we’ve tested these books on a range of ages from 2 to 8 (as well as 40) with great success. We’ve even adopted some “menoisms” into our daily routine. We sometimes drink “moo juice” and like Meno, we always want it to be “sunshine time” at our house.

This cheeky series may not appeal to all parents, especially those who are overly concerned with the occasional silly potty joke or creative play with language. Dick and Jane do not make an appearance in Meno’s world, but that’s part of the appeal. These books will entertain in direct proportion to an adult’s willingness to get goofy. They fall into the same category as tickle tag, making silly faces, and rolling around on the floor. Lots of fun, and a great opportunity to share some all-ages giggles.

Meno is BIG FUN for sure.

Rating: 8.5

***

Bonus videos:

Tony & Angela discuss the project

Tony and Angela read Meno (I especially like their rendition of the diminutive farts at the end. So silly!)

Buy these books from your Local Indie Bookstore

I love language. I especially love the poetry that comes from chasing words free association style through the pages of a Roget’s unabridged. As someone who makes their living largely through writing, there is no better office companion. With words grouped by meaning rather than alphabet, browsing it often feels like a waking dream or an act of meditation. I even use it in my design work when I am stuck for inspiration.

So, imagine my absolute delight when I discovered that the good folks at Thinkmap have taken my intuitive approach one step further, and created a Visual Thesaurus that in their words “works like your brain, not a paper-bound book. You’ll want to explore just to see what might happen.” Type in any word, and before your eyes blossom the most beautiful, delicate constellations. At the heart is your word, and around it a branching depiction of all of the related words on a snowy white field.

Each related word meaning is depicted by a different color (noun, verb, adjective, or adverb), and its relationship to the original word, be it synonym or antonym, is depicted by a different kind of line. Click an icon in the center, and you can even hear it pronounced. Click on any word in the constellation and a new form magically blooms. Quite aside from its usefulness, it’s really beautiful.

“The whole interface feels almost alive; it reinforces word connections in a direct manner and encourages exploration… overall it’s a rare, rewarding example of a paper-bound process that has been radically rethought from the bits up.” -The Washington Post

Check out a free trial at www.visualthesaurus.com, and while you’re there try your hand at the spelling bee or any of the other fun language games, create your favorite thematic word constellations, and generally join the language geekery. If you love it as much as I do, the $20 annual subscription seems like a small price to pay for something that’s both practical and a whole bunch of fun.

T9okatol

www.tikatok.net

At BEA recently, I was facilitating a panel on the Gen-Z reader, (as in Gen x, gen y, gen z), and one of the threads the conversation turned to was whether the publishing industry can use the music industry as an example for the future. In particular whether artists/authors will take control of the medium as they have in music, thereby cutting out the middle man. The panelists were not convinced that the model went that far, given all the complicated things that have to happen to make a book a book. I myself am pretty sure that we will see increasing examples of this, given that consumer control over pretty much everything is the wave of the future. I definitely think that the readers and authors of the future will be much more empowered and DIY about things.

It’s already happening.

I give you Tikatok, an online publishing service for the young authors of the moment. Started by a mom, this is basically a site where, for less than $20, children can self-publish their own paperback or hardcover book. Using “story sparks” or completely from scratch, they do it all using the template based system. They can upload art directly to the site or mail it in. The whole thing is very well designed, clean, and easy to navigate. They even offer packages to schools and libraries for group orders. (This might be a very cool project for a children’s bookstore too!) The site is very family centered, and has an awesome and well-thought-out privacy policy.

And, the above handmade example aside, there are several examples on their site of books with fantastic art and photographic treatments. It’s possible to come up with a very credible product. Especially if you’re a second grader.

Yes, there have been self-publishing projects for kids in the past, but never have they been so kid-centered, user-friendly, or so interactive. Seriously, this is something an elementary kid could do pretty much on their own. Certainly, not every tikatok author will run their own publishing house in the future, but it’s not a far leap from here to web publishing, blogging, and all other manner of communication. I do think the youngsters of today will have a VERY different idea about communication when they hit adulthood.

As a mom, I think this is pretty cool.

What do you think?

Agate cover

Agate: What good is a moose? by Joy Morgan Dey, illustrated by Nikki Johnson

Lake Superior Port Cities; April 2007; 32 pp; $17.95 HC

978-0942235739

Core Audience: Children 4-8; Anyone who has ever felt outshined

Strengths: Luminous artwork; great message

If you have been reading pixiestix for awhile you are probably aware of my feelings about marginal books that are either self-published, or that are produced by small presses that don’t quite get how to put the total package together. I receive hundreds of unsolicited pitches every year for these kinds of books, and when you combine that with the thousands of mainstream books that flow across my desk in a given year, it really takes something to make me sit up.

And this, my friends, is that something.

Meet Agate, the hero of this wonderful and unexpected picture book from a pair of artists and a small regional press from Duluth, MN. Agate is in a metaphysical quandary. “What good is a moose?” he asks when he compares himself to all of his other “birthstone” friends, like Garnet the Crocodile, Emerald the Lion, and Sapphire the Hippo.

WGIAM?

He has a big case of the inferiors, and any child who has ever felt dull will recognize themselves here. At the back of the book, there is a nice appendix that talks about birthstone gems. The writing and rhymes here are very sweet, but what really makes this book is the incredible watercolor illustration presented on a sparkling white ground.

giraffe

giraffe

These are just quick scans. For the full effect, get a copy and check out how eye-popping they really are. I particularly like the way Nikki Johnson has let the natural flow of the paint create the rich texture of the animals in motion.

This book really has it all: clean uncluttered design, a nice story, a good message, a eye-catching cover, fresh art, and the element of surprise. This proves the point that a small press with no background in kid’s books really can do a great job. Amazing books can come from anywhere, which why it is SO important that people setting off to make a picture book (or indeed any book) for the first time really understand what it takes, and know the market.

Apparently the author and illustrator brought the project to the press. Bravo to Lake Superior Port Cities for recognizing that Agate really is a gem of the highest order.

agate stone

 

Rating: 9.0

Booksense

Buy this book from your local independent bookstore

cinderella

Walt Disney’s Cinderella by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Mary Blair

Disney Press; August 2007; 64 pp; $16.99 HC

978-1423104216

Core Audience: Children 4-8; Design lovers of all ages

Strengths: AMAZING original concept art from Mary Blair

Culturally, we are in a new golden age of design right now, with a distinct blurring of the lines between commercial and fine art. It’s everywhere you look: Target’s Design for All project is pulling in designers like Isaac Mizrahi and Michael Graves, Todd Oldham is busting a move for La-Z-Boy, the geniuses at Pixar are re-inventing animation, and even the most humble toilet brush is not immune to its own version of an extreme makeover.

It makes sense then that contemporary artists are looking back to the last golden age of US design, the mid-century. Ground-breaking artists, who until now were largely unsung, are finally getting their props and it’s about time. The vaults are being thrown open, and we’re all reaping the benefits.

One of my all time favorite of these artists is Mary Blair. Incredibly versatile, winsome, and magical, Blair’s use of color and form rivals the great modernists. (I’m not kidding, here.)

MB

During a career than spanned more than half a century, Blair did fine art, illustration, commercial design, murals, and children’s books, but she is best known as one of Walt Disney’s favorite house artists. She did the concept art for more than a dozen Walt Disney projects including The Three Caballeros, Song of the South, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, as well as the design for the ubiquitous It’s a Small World attraction which she created at Walt’s behest for the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

Here’s a tiny little taste of some of her work to wet your whistle:

blair collage

Blair’s work has an irrepressible optimism paired with a sophisticated sense of composition and color that I just love. It’s the pure embodiment of that great Charles Mingus quote: “Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.”

***

It used to be that you had to hunt and peck to find examples of her original work for Disney. Most of it was residing in WDAS’s Animation Research Library collection. Now you can have a little bit of this magic on your very own bookshelf!

Disney Press has taken the original concept art for Cinderella (1950) and worked it into a new book with great text by Cynthia Rylant. It has been released with very little fanfare into a market crowded with Cinderellas, but this book is really amazing, and deserves a closer look.*

Title

Cinder's house

carriage arrives

at the doors

at the ball

riders

In his book Cartoon Modern: Style and Design in 1950s Animation, Amid Amidi makes the argument that the male-dominated, hard-edged animation department at Disney didn’t quite know what to do with Blair’s dreamy, color-block style, and that’s why she didn’t receive more external recognition during her time there. (She finally did recieve a posthumous nod with a “Disney Legends” award in 1991.) However, anyone who knows the movie will recognize the impact Blair’s art had on the final product. The drama, color, scale, and composition are all hers.

Nearly sixty years later, Blair’s art has lost none of it’s power. Walt Disney loved her work because like him, he felt she was able to tap directly into childhood. Disney Animator Marc Davis recalled, “She brought modern art to Walt in a way that no one else did. He was so excited about her work.”

A whole new generation of readers and design enthusiasts will feel exactly the same.

Rated: 9.5

booksense

Order this book from your local independent bookstore

_________

Web Worthy

Meadow Gold 2

BONUS: Check out this very cool Mary Blair 1950′s B&W commercial for Meadow Gold Ice Cream.

Many thanks to Fred Cline for making it available. Fred knew Mary and her husband Lee, who encouraged him to study design and animation, and he is doing a great job of carrying the torch.

ALSO: If you are excited by Mary Blair’s work and want to learn more, check out this great retrospective: The Art and Flair of Mary Blair (978-0786853915; Disney Editions; $40.00 HC)

SUPER DOUBLE-BONUS IF YOU LIVE IN SAN FRAN: The Museum of Cartoon Art has an exhibition up by the same name running until March 2008. Lucky!

*Book images: Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

 

pink cover 2

Pink by Nan Gregory, illustrated by Luc Melanson

Groundwood; July 2007; 32 pp; $17.95 HC

978-0888997814

Core Audience: Girls ages 3-10; Anyone who hasn’t gotten the fabulous thing they most wanted but didn’t need

Strengths: Heartbreakingly honest writing; a fresh approach to the subject of PINK

Once in awhile a book comes along that just melts your heart—and not because it is full of puppies, or children in flower costumes, or rhymes about bellybuttons. Rather, it stops you in your tracks because it cuts right to the heart of childhood pain. This is one of those books, especially if you grew up in a family where resources were sometimes outpaced by desire.

Vivi loves pink. She wants nothing more than to own something perfectly, gloriously pink, just like the popular girls. It is all she can think about.

pink pp1

Vivi’s parents love her very much and try to pinkify her life any way they can, but theirs is a family with more creativity than money, and they can’t afford to indulge the material desire that “The Pinks” represent. They try to get Vivi to appreciate all the free pink in the world, but Vivi won’t be derailed. When Vivi tries to express her intense desire, her mother tells her that there is enough pink to go around, and her father praises the “pink in her cheeks.” Vivi feels they don’t understand her.

One day as she is passing the local toy store, she sees the most perfect expression of her desire: a pink bride doll. Vivi doesn’t have enough in her piggy bank to buy it, so she decides to work around the neighborhood for a few months to earn the money. She works hard, and is close to her goal, but when she brags about the doll to “The Pinks” in a fit of playground hubris, she finds her dream has slipped away.

The subtle messages about family love in this book are many. Readers will appreciate Vivi’s parent’s efforts on her behalf, and will prefer the magical creativity of her family even if Vivi doesn’t always. The lovely artwork perfectly depicts the melancholy longing of Vivi’s world, as well as the warmth of her family.

pink tree

This story is a great jumping off point for discussions of peer pressure, the difference between “want” and “need”, and how difficult it is to envy others who may have more than you. In the end Vivi doesn’t get the object of her desire, but we see her family supporting her as she works through it.

There has been a spate of books for the pink hedonists lately, (Fancy Nancy, Pinkilicious), and as anyone who is living with a Disney-Princess loving two year-old will tell you, they have their place. But it is very nice (and much rarer) to see a book that holds the other side with such sensitivity and grace. This sleeper, which comes from a small Canadian Press, is one of my favorite books of the year.

Delicious.

Rated: 9.0

booksense

Order this book from your local independent bookstore

Lambiek Stoefront
Check out this totally amazing resource from Lambiek, the mac-daddy of European comic shops. The Comiclopedia is a searchable database of more than 9,000 international comic artists that includes both visual and biographic data.

I can imagine lots of uses for this, including checking out a customer recommendation, as a resource for students interested in the medium, and as an educational tool for new booksellers. (Pair it with :01/First Second’s awesome list of the best kids graphic novels, and it’s basically a graphic novel course in a proverbial can.)

Best of all, if you find a hole in their database, let them know, and they’ll update it.

Many thanks to Julie over at Children’s Illustration for bringing this amazing resource to my attention.

I’m the biggest thing in the ocean

I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry

Penguin/Dial; May 2007; 32 pp; $16.99 HC

978-0803731929

Core Audience: Children 4-8; Braggarts everywhere

Strengths: Bold punchy artwork; Very funny

Let’s start with the basic premise of this story. Here we have a giant squid that just can’t get over himself. After all, he is bigger than most things in the ocean, and if you ask him, he’ll tell you he’s the BIGGEST thing in the ocean.

Shrimp? Bigger.

Clams? Bigger.

Jelly fish? Bigger.

Sea turtles? Yup. Bigger.

He even says he’s bigger than the shark, but he’s careful to say it quietly. In fact, he’s so busy proudly telling us how big he is that he doesn’t even notice the (very big) whale that’s behind him. But you know what they say…pride go-eth before a fall.

I really love this book both for the incredibly appealing artwork, and for the absolutely irrepressible squid. Anyone who has ever worked with children will recognize in this squid the child who has unshakable confidence about their own abilities, no matter what reality has to say about it. Preschoolers will adore everything about this book, and with successive readings they will join right in. (Fun bonus: Bathtub stickers are included so kids can play out the story in the tub.) Although our squishy hero does wind up on the inside of the whale at the end, he won’t be kept down, and he finds a way to see the bright side.

This is Kevin Sherry’s first book, and I hope it won’t be the last. It’s fun, charming, well executed, and a delight from start to finish.

Bravo.

Rated: 9.0

Web Icon

Extra Bonus: Squids must be a thing for Kevin Sherry, because he also has a fun online venture called Squidfire, featuring very hip T-shirts printed with great designs including—you guessed it—squids!!

Booksense.com

Order this book from your local independent bookstore

Incredible Book Eating Boy

The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers

Penguin/Philomel; April 2007; 32 pp; $16.99 HC

978-0399247491

Core Audience: Children 4-8; Ravenous readers of all ages

Strengths: Awesome artwork, fun play on words

I don’t know what it is about Irish humor that I love so much, but I can’t resist it when I come across it. Maybe it’s the storytelling tradition over there, but there is a wonderful drollness and a slight off-kilter quality to it that is distinctly zany, and it never fails to amuse me. This book is an excellent example.

It starts out innocently enough: it’s about a boy who loves books. Can’t get enough of them. He devours them, really.

Really.

He eats them up.

For the hero of Oliver Jeffers’ newest story, it starts out small. A distracted lick. Followed by a nibble. A page, or two. By Wednesday he had eaten a whole book. And come to find out, the best part is it makes him smarter. Pretty soon he’s smarter than his dad, and smarter than the teacher. He’s eating books left and right, and red ones are his favorite. He loves being smart. But like so many things that diminish when you over-indulge, our hero soon finds himself feeling a little ill. Then alot ill. Then he finds he can’t eat another book if he tries.

What will happen to our little book lover now?

Of course, this bibliographic parable has a happy ending when our hero finds that there’s more than one way to enjoy books. Kids will love the kookiness of the story from start to finish. Jeffers’ art style is full of funny details and punchy visual elements which will give young readers plenty to look at during multiple readings. I am particularly fond of the bite-shaped diecut in the back cover of the book, and the disclaimer that reads “Please do not try to eat this book at home.”

Jeffers has won critical acclaim in Europe, including a nomination for the Kate Greenaway Medal (the UK equivalent of the Caldecott) for his second book Lost and Found. With this third book, Jeffers has a nice body of work going, and I think he’s definitely an author to watch.

I’m looking forward to his next tasty treat, for sure. Yum, Yum.

Rated: 8.75

Web Icon

Bonus: Check out Jeffers’ lovely little website

 

Booksense.com

Order this book from your local independent bookstore

the Police cloud

The Police Cloud by Christoph Neimann

Random House/Schwartz & Wade; March 2007; 40pp; $15.99 HC

978-0375839634

Core Audience: Children 3-6; Lovers of wonderful illustration

Strengths: Nice blend of a soft story with the ever-popular police and fire genre

This is a wonderful story about a little cloud with big aspirations.

It seems that ever since he was a wee puff, he has dreamed of being a police officer. But who ever heard of a cloud in the police force? When the police decide to give him a chance, nothing goes right in spite of his great intentions. His fellow officers get caught in his fog when they go to chase a robber, and his vapor makes it hard to direct traffic too. It seems like he can’t even patrol the park without getting in the way of the sun. What’s a little civic-minded cloud to do? (Hint: Join the fire department.)

This is Neimann’s first picture book for kids, but his art is very well known from his grown-up work for The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Time magazine. Here his pictures are bright, punchy, and engaging, with bold fields of color and elegant typography. What I most like about this book is how it combines a sensitive character arc with all the hard edged things typical boys love, like city streets, cars, policemen, and fire trucks. Imaginative and beautifully executed, it will have broad appeal for a wide range of readers. Best of all, it’s a great read-aloud.

You go, little cloud!

Web Icon  Bonus: Check out Christoph’s brand new (and charming) site for the book: www.policecloud.com

Rated: 9.0

 

Booksense.com

Order this book from your local independent bookstore

Howdy!

Welcome to pixie stix kids pix, the site for reviews and opinions about new and interesting books for children and young adults, by a professional in the children's book industry.

What rates?

When I read books they get rated on a 10 point scale. What I like is subjective, but basically I look for great content, excellent design, and fresh ideas. Generally, only books that receive a 7.0 or higher make it on to the site.

Got a comment or question?

Send it to Kristen

Or come say hi on MySpace

Follow me on Twitter

Browse by category

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.